George Fox University has signed a memorandum of understanding to explore building an allied and mental health college in Roseburg.

The university will be working with Oregonians for Rural Health, a coalition dedicated to promoting the health and vitality of rural communities, to start the process that could bring a new college to the area.

Wayne Patterson, executive director of the Umpqua Economic Development Partnership, said the Oregonians for Rural Health coalition would look for a site to build, create the ownership structure and provide the funding. George Fox University is expected to bring the management group, the accreditation, the models on how to run a university, staff and instructors.

“We have been meeting with the rural health coalition to help them understand the process for bringing accredited programs to the area,” said Linda Samek, provost for George Fox University. “We currently have a wide range of healthcare and mental health programs that are needed in the area. We are innovative and open to creative solutions to messy issues.”

According to Patterson, the coalition has explored several sites and has signed with a local engineering group and property owner to start a site plan for two locations. The coalition is also looking at a third location. All sites will be within Roseburg city limits.

“We want to do it within city limits,” Patterson said. “There’s a three-legged stool as part of this process. The first one obviously, because we need a workforce. The second part is economic impact to the community, and the third one is branding. The critical part is how do we mix all that together and the site has a part of that.”

George Fox University’s main campus, founded in 1891, is in Newberg, with additional sites in Salem, Redmond and Portland. The university also offers online instruction.

“George Fox is an established Oregon academic institution whose broad range of nationally accredited allied and mental health educational programs directly serve acute workforce needs shared by providers, including hospitals and medical facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Kelly Morgan, CEO of Mercy Medical Center, in a press release.

Samek said the university has always been fairly entrepreneurial and has periodically gone to places where they could be of service to the community.

“We have very accomplished practitioners who run the programs, very experienced people,” she said. “We keep our classrooms relatively small and they’re very hands-on programs. For example, our physical therapy program has been up and running for about six years, and if you come to the facility where they do their training you will find the faculty with the students studying, playing games, having conversations, they eat together, they work together.

“We run a pro bono clinic out of our facility in Newberg to connect with our community, and that’s probably one of the things we’re probably most well known for — a deep connection with any community where we do programs and our hands-on practical training,” she said.

The physical therapy program is relatively new, but the university started focusing on health care in the 1980s and is continuing to roll out new programs. A physician assistant program is set to start in 2021.

The signed memorandum established an exclusive partnership between the two organizations to build a college that would offer advanced degree programs. Patterson said the college is expected to offer nine different programs.

“The community seems to want this to happen and that is critical,” Samek said. “We have always had students from the area and we care about rural communities. Roseburg is accessible to Southern and Eastern Oregon, the South Coast and the I-5 corridor from the California border to Eugene. Mercy Hospital and the VA are both willing to be partners and Umpqua Community College is already doing nurse training. We like to build on community strengths.”

The college is envisioned to provide a reliable pipeline of healthcare professionals in multiple medical fields, connect individuals to living wage jobs and create economic growth and stability to the region.

Not all programs will start right away, it will likely stagger the start of some of the programs based on the need in the community and the availability of programs.

Samek said there is already a proposal for a satellite program of the university’s physical therapy program.

“This can be, and our hope is that it is, the greatest thing to ever happen in Douglas County,” Patterson said. “Because it’s going to bring jobs, but more importantly it’s going to provide workers in a desperately needed area for all of rural Southern Oregon and the VA.”

When it comes to funding, Patterson hopes to get equal shares from the state, the VA and the private sector. The Roseburg VA Medical Center is the second largest employer in Douglas County.

“So many people have been a part of making this happen and getting us to where we are,” Patterson said. “I feel very grateful for the trust that’s been given to the partnership to get this project underway and all of those contributions to make it happen.”

Education reporter Sanne Godfrey can be reached at 541-957-4203 or via email at Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey

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Sanne Godfrey is the education reporter for The News-Review.

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Would be nice to have information/link for private donations?

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